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When Grover Cleveland became President in 1885, he was the first Democrat to occupy the White House since James Buchanan was elected just prior to the Civil War. For most of his first term, Cleveland was more concerned with preventing Congress from granting privileges to special interests than with pursuing his own legislative agenda.
Among the most important domestic issues that President William McKinley had to deal with during his presidency, bimetallism and tariff legislation loomed large. Through most of 1897, the McKinley administration pursued an international agreement to include silver, along with gold, as an acceptable backing for the major European currencies.
When Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office in September 1901, he presided over a country that had changed significantly in recent decades. The population of the United States had almost doubled from 1870 to 1900 as immigrants came to U.S. cities to work in the country's burgeoning factories. As the United States became increasingly urban and industrial, it acquired many of the attributes common to industrial nations—overcrowded cities, poor working conditions, great economic disparity, and the political dominance of big business. At the turn of the twentieth century, Americans had begun to look for ways to address some of these problems.
William Howard Taft entered the White House determined to implement and continue Roosevelt's program. His central ambition regarding reform was to create an orderly framework for administering a reform agenda. His conception of executive leadership was primarily focused on administration rather than legislative agenda-setting. He felt most comfortable in executing the law, regardless of his personal feelings for the particular piece of legislation.
Woodrow Wilson's presidency fulfilled the progressive reform agenda and laid the foundations of the modern activist presidency. Although he built upon the example of Theodore Roosevelt, and while his immediate successors would return to the caretaker model of the presidency, Wilson's administration fundamentally altered the nature and character of the presidency. He changed it from an equal or lesser partner with Congress to its superior—the dominant branch of government.
As President, Warren G. Harding often seemed overwhelmed by the burdens of his administration. He frequently confided to his friends that the job was beyond him. But he worked at his duties intensely and tried to keep his campaign promise of naming the best men in the nation to his cabinet. Some of them were clearly men of talent and energy.